|Early history of samba schools in Rio|
|Written by Giselle W|
|Wednesday, 06 May 2009 12:02|
There has been carnaval in Brazil and in Rio de Janeiro for centuries, but samba schools first took their place in Rio Carnaval in the 1920s.
At the turn of the century, street carnaval in Rio involved various types of groups known as 'blocos', 'cordoes' and 'ranchos'; and was musically a very eurocentric affair; Polkas, Waltzes, Mazurcas and 'Scottish'. Meanwhile, the emergent working class (made up of Afro Brazilians, Gypsies, Russian Jews, Poles etc) did not have a carnaval of their own. These people were mostly based in the central part of Rio, on land the rich did not want, in the hills and swamps behind the dockyards; an area which came to be known as 'Little Africa'.
At the end of the 19th century, immigrants from Bahia brought with them the tradition of playing candomble and dancing a bahian dance called the Samba. In Little Africa they established a number of 'Terreiros da Candomble'; religious houses founded by bahian priestesses of the African religion, devoted to religious ceremonies and where they played and danced samba da roda, a bahian form. The Candomble priestess Tia Ciata and colleagues of her generation were the original Baianas of Rio Carnaval, and are still revered in the ala of Baianas which any gsamba school must include in its parade, if it is an Escola de Samba.
It was in these terreiros that samba developed. But the African religions were illegal in this Catholic country, and these roots of samba remained invisible to the white elite. As a result the process by which the traditional Bahian music evolved into the samba went unnoticed and unrecorded in contemporary written sources. The oral evidence is partisan and contradictory. However, it is generally agreed that the first true samba ever recorded was a song called 'Pelo Telfone', by Donga, in 1917.
The structure of the samba schools originates in the structure of the Ranchos which paraded in the carnavals of the 19th century. These already had a fixed format including abre-alas, a theme, commisao de frente, alegorias (Floats) mestre sala and Porta Estandarte; all essential components of the modern samba schools. Their music was European. These Ranchos were so well organised that they were licenced to parade by the police. The principal Ranchos included O Rei de Ouro, Flor do Abacete and Mimosas Cravinas.
At the start of the 20th Century, in Little Africa, in a square called Praca Onze, a new tradition started of the 'Little Carnaval'; where groups of youths would come down from the hills on foot, to celebrate Carnaval.
Angenor de Olivera, founder of Mangueira (and better known as Cartola) said, "We had there a bloco and there were also the blocos of Tia Tomasia and Mestre Candinho. They were organised blocos. We were disorganised, parading anyhow. So we decided to orgainise our own bloco, the Bloco of Arengueiros'.
As a result of this movement towards discipline and structure the Little Carnaval in the Praca Onze became much less aggressive and wild. These blocos took elements of organisation from the Ranchos, and produced something new.
The first group to call itself an Escola de Samba (Samba School) was a group known as Deixa Falar, which came from the district of Estacio on the hill above Praca Onze. The called themselves a 'Samba School' because they met right next door to a local childrens school. The founder of Deixa Falar, Ismael Silva, said 'Now we weren't just some bloco, we were a SAMBA SCHOOL!' In the Journal of Brazil in 1931, Deixa Falar was referred to as a 'pretty and disciplined rancho'; in 1932 Deixa Falar was calling itself a 'Rancho-Escola'.
Which was the first Samba School? Deixa Falar and Mangueira were both founded at the end of the 1920's, with Deixa Falar first, in April 1926, and Mangueira soon after, in April 1928. Deixa Falar was disbanded and later refounded as Estacio de Sa; so the supporters of Mangueira can claim that theirs is the oldest samba school, but not the first. It was on and around the hill of Estacio, overlooking Little Africa, that the rhythm developed that we call today 'samba', and here also the big Surdo drum was invented.
Deixa Falar paraded for the first time in the Praca Onze in 1929. In 1930 there were 5 escolas parading including Estacao Primeira da Mangueira, and Vai Como Pode, later known as Portela. The parade of the samba schools had become a contest, which Deixa Falar won in 1930 and 1931. By 1932 there were 19 schools parading. In 1933 the parade was sponsored by 'O Globo', who established a list of 4 marking criteria for the judges (these were the poetry of the samba, the theme, originality, and the entirity of the parade).
The first 'Union of Samba Schools' was founded in 1934, and the first official parade, promoted by the Prefectura, took place in 1935. By this time Deixa Falar had folded and was temporarily absent, later resurrected to eventually become the samba school Estacio de Sa. Other schools participated in '35 which persisted continously until this day; Mangueira, Portela, Unidos de Tijuca, Vizinha Faladeira.